Historic day arrives for same-sex couples

BOSTON – Wiping away tears of joy, Carolyn and Joy Beaulieu stood on the lawn in front of Cambridge’s City Hall while a justice of the peace pronounced them spouses for life, May 17. The Beaulieus were among the more than 1,000 couples who rushed to city halls and courthouses across the Bay State to apply for the first legal marriage licenses for same-sex couples in the U.S.

Some couples expressed concern that if they didn’t have the wedding right away, they might not have the opportunity again anytime soon, due to legal maneuvers by conservative groups at the state and federal level.

On Sunday, May 16, supporters gathered in front of Cambridge’s City Hall for a party leading up to the first license application. At 12:01 a.m., Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd filed their application. City Hall remained open until 4:30 a.m. taking applications, and reopened later Monday morning for a steady stream of applicants throughout the day. As couples came out with their small slip of paper from the Clerk’s office, the crowd cheered, threw rice and blew bubbles.

In the course of the day, all seven couples who had brought the landmark case against the Massachusetts Department of Public Health were married.

Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade, two of the plaintiffs, were married in a service in the mayor’s office in nearby Newton. Prior to a wedding party organized by Newton Gay and Lesbian Parents and attended by hundreds, the couple stood on the steps of Newton City Hall with their daughter Kate, 12.

In a connection drawn by many, Brodoff spoke of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which had been delivered 50 years earlier to the day.

“As you all know, it was a seminal moment in the struggle for civil rights,” she said. “Last November the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its decision in the Goodridge case, and that also marked a new stage in the struggle for civil rights here and across the country.”

Brodoff added, “It’s my hope that all of us gathered here will commit ourselves to struggle for civil rights for all people, not just gay and lesbian people, but all people who are struggling for their civil rights and across the country and around the world.”

Wade spoke of the importance of legal marriage to same-sex couples.

“We have spent much of the last three years talking to anybody who would listen to us about our lives, about why civil marriage is so important, about the 1,425 benefits and privileges that marriage provides to couples and their families, how, as we age, we need those legal rights in place to make sure we can care for each other,” she said. “Today, as important as all of that is, it is secondary to the joy and the love of this moment.”

A number of clergy were present at Boston’s City Hall plaza, some to perform marriage ceremonies, some to lend their support as part of the crowd. Several people held signs proclaiming that they were Catholics who support gay marriage.

Susanne Bernstein brought her children, Sarah, 1, and Sam, 3, to be part of the day’s events. “I want to support gay marriage and I wanted my kids to be here for this important day,” she told the World. “I think it’s important for heterosexual couples to support gay marriage, too.”

While a small number of opponents protested the joyous day, the large crowd was almost entirely in support of those coming out of Boston City Hall. Approximately 30 protesters prayed, while one conservative group called for the removal of the four justices who had made the day possible in the Goodridge decision. This sentiment was echoed in a statement by President Bush who said, “The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges.” The statement also reiterated his call for a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The author can be reached at jbarnett@pww.org.click here for Spanish text